Storystorm!

Sometimes I go to the bookstore having already spent my book budget for the month. I do this because I cannot resist bookstores. Whenever this happens I find myself wondering, why oh why am I doing this to myself? I know I'm going to buy a book—probably more than one. And perhaps even one of those books will NOT even be a picture book. And then not only am I being bad with my budget I'm also going to want to read that long non-picture-book book RIGHT NOW! Only inevitably I will already have a stack as big as my leg (or possibly larger) of non-picture-book books I want to read RIGHT NOW. Also, didn't I just do this, like last week? Yes, I have a problem. I can't help it. I LOVE BOOKS!

So what, you may be asking, does this have to do with the title of this post—Storystorm? Storystorm is this thing in picture book land where picture book writers gather (virtually) over on Tara Lazar's blog and support one another as we each come up with a picture book idea for every day during an entire month. I have no idea how many years I've participated in Storystorm (used to be called PIBOIDMO). I will not go back and look because that will make me feel like I am getting old too fast. Let's just say it's many. And the practice has not only helped me come up with many fun ideas during the month it takes place, it also has taught me to cultivate ideas all year long. And it has to do with my enormously large pile of to-read books because just like books, I have WAY TOO MANY IDEAS!

But joking aside, I actually like having too many books and too many ideas. The abundance of these things matters. I've heard it said that you only need one good idea. Sure. And I suppose I'm supposed to feel satisfied with one book too?

I make my best work when I throw my perfectionism out the window and aim for quantity over quality. Yes, I want quality—but I find that it comes only from vigorous practice. And that vigorous practice only comes from a spirit of quantity. Quantity helps me achieve quality.

This is true especially with ideas. The more ideas I come up with, the more I find the ideas to be interesting. It never fails.

So here's my annual cheers to another month of brainstorming ideas with Storystorm! And while I'm at it I'll raise my glass to brainstorming of all kinds—where quantity cultivates quality. And also I'll raise my glass to the giant mountains of books that are waiting to be read, in my house, in my library, and in my local bookstore. Is there anything better?

Cheers to abundant possibility!

storystorm18winner.jpg

Screen time gives way to a happy something else

Do you ever feel like the NOW around you is way too full of screen time? I gave up nearly all television years ago. Not because I didn't enjoy it exactly. Just because I realized I enjoyed so many other things so much more. I guess I've had a bit of a wake-up call recently with another sort of screen. You know the one. You are looking at it now if you are reading this.

But the internet is sooooo darn useful.

So I won't give it up. I haven't disappeared. But. I do have a very good reason to have stepped away a bit and to be so absent recently from posting on my blog.

Here's why:

His name is Lars Archie. He was born on August 5.

(Ahem. Like I said, I know I'm late to post).

He likes to be held in his Mommy's lap (while she reads actual dead-tree books). He doesn't like the car and usually cries like crazy when he's in it. He seems to like being outside and I like being outside with him. His big brother makes him happy. When I play the ukulele for him, he coos along with me as though he's singing. When his daddy burps him, he belches like an old man. His smile can make one melt.

Sometimes being a mommy to a newborn is also super super painfully hard and tiring. But maybe because I've been here before I know that the hardest stuff doesn't last long.

And neither does the super sweet precious little-tiny-baby stuff.

So posting may stay a bit spotty for a bit. But pretty soon baby will have to share me with the outside world more. Pretty soon I'll have a bit of childcare and the siren song of my art and studio will nudge me into sharing with the world more regularly again.

But meanwhile I'll relish this very lovely moment.

Adventures, not even in Asia

My blog has been a bit quiet the past few months as I'm (still) settling into home after living in Asia for two years, shaving my dear old studio down (from using two rooms to using just one), introverting as I deal and...

Taking adventures in my own backyard.

 It's normal for an expat to have some trouble getting his or her head on straight after re-entry into one's homeland.

 Things can be a bit strange and overwhelming, even while they are also familiar and lovely. Sometimes there are cringe moments, confusion, and grumpy faces as mommy forces everyone to deal as she re-organizes EVERYTHING in EVERY room because this is a new time and everything should be new and clean and fresh and organized (dream on)! But memory has it that it took forever when we got to Malaysia too... Anyhow...

In our case, for re-entry at least, there's also the fact that we love, love, love the northwest. And that can just obliterate all the meddlesome tedious details of how long it takes to move back home.

I mean, how could you not love this place?

View of Bellingham-ish area from Mt. Constitution on Orcas Island

 And we've traveled a lot. We knew re-entry would take forever. 

And now we also have a new perspective on travel in our own backyard.

I loved all the magic and adventure we found and experienced while living in Asia. It was fantastic. It was life-changing.

Even in small ways. Like when we got home, noticing the magic in our own backyard a little more acutely than we maybe did before.

No kidding, this is what I saw just a little over a week ago:

 ORCA WHALES!

 Right after my reminiscing here on seeing them in Australia. Here's my smile after watching the whales for an hour or so:

It was magic in my own backyard that I'd never experienced before I'd left. Kind of a concrete version of what I've been bringing on home from my travels.

A Few Awesome Picture Books that deal with the joy of adventure and maybe even the joy of coming home:

Toot and Puddle

by Holly Hobbie

Snail and The Whale

by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

A Penguin Story

by Antoinette Portis

Flyaway Katie

by Polly Dunbar

Four of my favorite books. If you like adventures you will probably like these books too.

Please note:

I'm still here. I'm still squeezing in time to make art here and there and enjoying these two goofy guys:

My blogging habit will squeeze back in too. It will.

Bookshelves bookshelves bookshelves

Show and tell time.

These are my family's new bookshelves:

Ahhhhhhh.

I LOVE them. 

Please note all the picture book shelves. And the face-out picture book rack on the wall to the left of the shelves. I am a proud picture book hoarder. I feel that this is a very fine thing. I have a five-year-old afterall (or maybe, yes, that 's just an excuse...).

Also! These awesome bookshelves do not stand alone.

How about some bookshelves just for all our handmade journals and photo albums?

Are two shelves too many? How about three? How about one for the wall? Face out!

Or maybe four?

Aren't these shelves AWESOME?

They are like half-tables stacked on top of one another.

 Dreamy!

Now, how about some handmade shelves by yours truly (and my crafty sister):

Patchwork bookshelves for the nook at the top of my stairs.

 Because every crafty lady should try DECOUPAGE at some point.

 Here's the shelves right after I hung them, before I filled them up. My son helped me. He loves helping mommy with projects.

 As long as said projects don't involve trips to the craft store.

Is it embarrassing to realize that this little list does not include the bookshelves in my studio? Or my bedroom? or the one downstairs for cookbooks? I mean, is that too many? Too many bookshelves?

NO SUCH THING!

In fact, how about I just add pictures of those shelves too. Why not?

Studio shelves, complete with flying pig light

Cookbooks under the T.V. Wouldn't we rather be reading anyway?

This one houses journals I'm still filling.

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS!

"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves."
-Anna Quindlen (from an article in the NYT)

Alright. Enough already. Go read a book.

The Joy of Real Books

I found this awesome video via flavorwire last week and couldn't resist sharing. I hope it brings a smile to your face, too.


For the record, last year I read (or listened to):
  • 35 audio books
  • 8 kindle/e-books
  • 21 paperbacks
and
  • 37 hardbacks
(not counting picture books).

I hope I'm still allowed to love real books (and bookstores) most, even if I listen to that many audio books and I do buy some e-books in the mix...

What would Hermione do?

I realize this may put me over-the-top in the nerd category, but I confess that I have asked myself this question (what would Hermione do?) kinda-jokingly, kinda not, several times when I've faced small (rather mundane) situations that called for minor acts of bravery over the last couple of months (how can you not heart Hermione?). I suppose this is akin to confessing one has star trek pajamas, or that you watch Dancing with the Stars or something of that sort (I don't), but so be it.

I've been in and out of Harry Potter mode frequently over the last few months as I've been re-reading all the books in preparation for the last Harry Potter movie that comes out this week (I haven't re-read them all without break, I'm not that nerdy -- but I've been re-reading about one a month in-between other books, oh ya, and re-watching the movies). And while it's not a newsflash, just in case you've never tried it, I declare: It's really fun to re-read favorite books.

For anyone else who may be in on the nerd fest, here's a song for you:

Immersing myself in a new world

 I love the feeling of jumping into a new book and discovering a very specific new setting.
 Maybe it's just a completely different angle or view of an otherwise familiar setting,
 Or maybe it's a new world altogether, 
 But when I find it, I'm a traveler exploring vast unknowns.
 (And Lord only knows how much I love to travel).
 I see things from new perspectives,
 understand my own perspectives better,
 and best of all,
 I have grand adventures.
 Novelists talk about creating unique new worlds, even out of the familiar.
 But picture books do this too.
 Often in the illustrations.
 Maybe it's with a color palette that matches a theme or mood.
 Or maybe it's with composition, or view point.
Whatever the twist of magic, it's one of my favorite considerations when I'm making any kind of new art.
But the biggest reward is when I'm able to share that unique point of view, or new world. 
Especially with the newest of explorers.

Reading. Excessively.

My husband and I have been reading to excessive amounts in our free time lately. Especially on the weekends. I mention my husband as well as myself because this little pattern isn't necessarily the best for keeping a nearly-4-year-old occupied (unless we are reading to him, which trust me I also do to nearly excessive amounts). Ah well. Umm... we're setting an example, right?


"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves." ~Anna Quindlen, "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991

"There's nothing to match curling up with a good book when there's a repair job to be done around the house."  ~Joe Ryan

THINGS I LEARNED FROM READING ALL THE CALDECOTTS, EVER: part VI

This is the last in a series of posts elaborating on 5 of the most valuable things I learned (or gained insight into) by reading all the Caldecott winner and honor books, as I originally outlined on a blog post several weeks ago. If you are just joining the series, links to the earlier posts can be found below.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve elaborated on the following things I learned from reading all the Caldecotts, ever:
1. Children’s picture books have evolved dramatically in the last century and many of the changes and evolutions are fascinating and exciting to trace through time. (link)
2. Timeless books do some things that other books don't. Or, if it's possible to be more abstract, certain qualities seemed to rise up again and again in the books that felt most timeless. (link)
3. Not all the Caldecotts’ texts felt timeless to me: there were reasons that some of the books were difficult to locate and required inter-library loans or trips to special libraries at Universities (but then there were also other qualities in those books that made me glad I took the time to seek them out). (link).
4. Everyone knows that, while awards committees do their best to be fair, it’s impossible for subjectivity not to play some role in what gets a sticker and what doesn’t. While reading all the Caldecotts, ever, I often found myself returning to the idea of subjectivity and pondering it. Hopefully I gained some insights on it as a reader that are worth putting to words and sharing. (link).
This week, I’ll focus on thing NUMBER 5 I learned from reading all the Caldecotts, ever:
5. For learning about picture books, there is no substitution for putting in real time with real books and real artwork.
Everything I’ve written about in this series is all well and good for me to say. Hopefully it’s given you some insight. But really, the best way to learn about picture books, isn’t to read about them, it’s to read them, the actual books. Duh. Right?

What I’ve learned by reading so many picture books (not just the Caldecotts, but all the hundreds of other picture books I read every year that don’t have any stickers on them) is a lot more intuitive than what can be put to words in a series of blog posts. In other words, what I’ve learned, I’ve learned mostly by reading, not by reading about reading. Does that make any sense?

It’s like learning a language. When you are a kid you listen to people talk in your language enough that eventually you get it and understand. Indeed, you can go to school and learn how to talk better, and that can be really helpful, but you probably still learn the most by being immersed in the language. In the same regard, as an illustrator, I’ve made it a goal to study and immerse myself in the art of as many picture books as I can so I understand the visual language needed to “speak” myself.

I can go to illustrator talks and read about writing and take classes all I want (and they are often very helpful). But the root of my own knowledge, and the root of my own joy in all of it is reading actual books.

If this series of posts hasn’t inspired you to go digging around for some inspiration in old books, at least I hope it has inspired you to study others' works in whatever discipline is yours.

Thanks for reading.

THINGS I LEARNED FROM READING ALL THE CALDECOTTS, EVER: part V

This is a series elaborating on 5 of the most valuable things I learned (or gained insight into) by reading all the Caldecott winner and honor books, as I originally outlined on a blog post several weeks ago. I’ll be putting up new posts each week on the subject through next week.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve elaborated on the following things I learned from reading all the Caldecotts, ever:

1. Children’s picture books have evolved dramatically in the last century and many of the changes and evolutions are fascinating and exciting to trace through time. (link)
2. Timeless books do some things that other books don't. Or, if it's possible to be more abstract, certain qualities seemed to rise up again and again in the books that felt most timeless. (link)
3. Not all the Caldecotts’ texts felt timeless to me: there were reasons that some of the books were difficult to locate and required inter-library loans or trips to special libraries at Universities (but then there were also other qualities in those books that made me glad I took the time to seek them out). (link).

This week, I’ll focus on thing NUMBER 4 I learned from reading all the Caldecotts, ever:
4. Everyone knows that, while awards committees do their best to be fair, it’s impossible for subjectivity not to play some role in what gets a sticker and what doesn’t. While reading all the Caldecotts, ever, I often found myself returning to the idea of subjectivity and pondering it. Hopefully I gained some insights on it as a reader that are worth putting to words and sharing.
Whenever the awards are given out, I’ve noticed that there’s always buzz about what was left out, what should have won the medal instead of the honor, etc.

Of course there is. If the task of picking the Caldecotts didn’t include a certain amount of subjectivity, it wouldn’t require a committee to perform it.

But in looking back over the entire list of Caldecott books since 1938, it’s especially interesting to note when a beloved classic like Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans was an honor book, while the winner-proper from that same year, Abraham Lincoln, by Ingri and Edgar Parlin d’Aulaire, is (in my eyes at least) not nearly as well known now, years into the future (even if it’s a great book).

Does this mean that Madeline should have won the award-proper, not Abraham Lincoln?

I’m not meaning to suggest so. Or to suggest the winner didn’t deserve it. I just mean to point out one of the more obvious years when it’s clear that we may not all agree on the committee's final decisions regarding what book got what award.

A book doesn’t really need a sticker at all to be a beloved classic. Right? Let alone a gold sticker, as opposed to a silver one. But I remember as a kid wondering why a book I didn't really like had a sticker on it, when a book I loved, didn't. Doesn't every kid wonder that?

If Madeline wasn't an obvious enough example let's switch over to the Newbery award for a minute. You may know that Charlotte's Web won a Newbery honor in 1953. But did you know the title of the Newbery winner-proper from 1953? The winner that year was a book called, Secret Of the Andes. By no means do I mean to put it down; I'm sure is a great book. But it won over Charlotte's web? We're talking best of the best, one of the most well-known and most beloved Children's book ever.

So what's my point?

My point is that choosing award-winners is a subjective thing. And by looking through the cannon of Caldecott books, and noticing years like Madeline’s year, it's clear that committees are human. Opinions differ. Subjectivity is a part of the game.

Just for interest’s sake, here’s some other extremely well-known classics (written before 1980) that may surprise you as being honor books their years, not the winners-proper:

Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans (mentioned above)
Blueberries For Sal by Robert McCloskey
One Morning In Maine by Robert McCloskey
Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni
Frederick by Leo Lionni
Frog and Toad are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Freight Train by Donald Crews

(Side note: I concede that it’s possible that sometimes a winner-proper from one of the honor books’ years from the above list is perhaps more well-known than the honor book I’m highlighting, but not so well-known to me. That being said, I have been a voracious reader of picture books for decades, I’m familiar with the general canon of children’s literature classics, and I’d guess that I’m at least close to the mark with the above observations).

And now, switching gears a bit...

Here's another note regarding subjectivity that probably won’t come as any surprise for those who follow the awards closely, but I can’t help but point it out anyway.

While the medals used to be given out pretty evenly to both women and men, it’s fairly shocking how infrequently they’ve been given to women in the last several decades.

I’m not the first to ask it, by any stretch, but what’s up with that?

Why is it that more men win this award and its honor? I don’t know. But I’m not the only one who thinks that it's curious (and/or kind of lame). I've read about this subject many times before on others' blogs and in industry journals.

I did some digging to try to find old blog posts and/or articles on this subject to link to here. Alas, I became fatigued of internet surfing in my attempt to find some of the articles I remember reading about this in the past. So I'm copping out a bit here and not being as helpful as I could with this post for the sake of getting back to my own illustration work. In other words, sorry I don't have more links.


But at least I have a few:
Out of 72 Caldecott Gold Medals:
47 have gone to 43 men
20 have gone to 16 women
5 have gone to 5 male/female pairs (all unique illustrator pairs)
Out of 226 Caldecott Honors:
138 have gone to 88 men
83 have gone to 53 women
5 have gone to 4 male/female pairs
 (my own note -- I believe these are the numbers over all the years the award has been given. It's substantially more lop-sided in favor of men winning over the last 2 decades or so. Also please note that the opposite is true for Newbery winners -- way more women than men win there, but at least it's fair to say that there's way more women writing for children than illustrating. Step into any children's literature conference and you'll see quickly that women outnumber men there by a large large margin)

 Please if someone has interesting links on this topic or remembers old discussions I might link to, include them in the comments.

THINGS I LEARNED FROM READING ALL THE CALDECOTTS, EVER: part IV

 This is a series elaborating on 5 of the most valuable things I learned (or gained insight into) by reading all the Caldecott winner and honor books, ever, as I originally outlined on a blog post 3 weeks ago. I’ll be putting up new posts each week on the subject through Mid-February.

Over the last 2 weeks, I’ve elaborated on the following things I learned from reading all the Caldecotts, ever: 
1. Children’s picture books have evolved dramatically in the last century and many of the changes and evolutions are fascinating and exciting to trace through time.
 2. Timeless books do some things that other books don’t. Or, if it’s possible to be more abstract, certain qualities seemed to rise up again and again in the books that felt most timeless.
This week, I’ll focus on thing NUMBER 3 I learned from reading all the Caldecotts, ever:
3. Not all the Caldecotts’ texts felt timeless to me: there were reasons that some of the books were difficult to locate and required inter-library loans or trips to special libraries at Universities (but then there were also other qualities in those books that made me glad I took the time to seek them out).
Say you want to read all the Caldecott winner and honor books of all time. What do you do? You reserve a whole bunch of old books at the library. Caldecott books never go out of print after all, right? They should be easy enough to find. So you reserve them at your library. You check them out. You read them. You check them off your list. And that should be that.

Wrong. Caldecott books do go out of print. Some of the oldest Caldecott winner and honor books were extremely hard to find. In order to read all the books I utilized my own public library (how I miss you, Bellingham Public Library!), my mother’s award-winning public library (Snohomish, Washington has an exceptional library. It’s true). Western Washington University’s special Children’s Interdisciplinary Collection (Western Washington University has some passionate kid lit people keeping amazing libraries and even organizing major children’s literature events, check it out!), and then I got a little stuck with the last dozen or so titles.

The University of Washington had a couple of the books I wanted to read, but not all. So I wondered what to do. Then a friend here on my blog finally suggested I try interlibrary loan. Duh. Thankfully she even suggested it before I took a special trip to the University of Washington (in the midst of my move to Malaysia). So anyway, I figured out how to do interlibrary loan and I paid a nice fat sum for about a dozen books to be shipped to me from all over the country. And then finally, I did it. I finished reading all the books on the list.

The things I learned from the hard-to-find books were amongst the most surprising of my discoveries. There were reasons these books were hard to find. And it wasn’t just that they were old.

a. The thing most in common that the hard-to-find books shared was that they were often out-dated, or lacking in relevance in a non-PC sort of way. Like they had an old school, rather embarrassing (in this day and age) way of handling Native Americans, for example. Or perhaps they had a moderately patronizing handling of another culture. This was most often the case.

b. Some of the books handled a theme so often redone that they’ve been replaced dozens of times over. Like a few ABC books in the mix and some old nursery rhyme collections (as a bonus -- a couple of the nursery rhyme collections included several nursery rhymes with heavy spanking references). These books were more conceptual; they didn’t have a character to fall in love with, only a concept. And I’m not sure that’s as easy to keep around.

c. Sometimes it seemed the books that were hard to find were just tediously long, text-wise. The stories felt dragged down by too many words despite the lovely (sometimes little) illustrations that won the book the award in the first place.

d. And perhaps this is the most controversial thing I’ll suggest. I think sometimes the older books that were a bit harder to find were really artistically beautiful, but I couldn’t possibly imagine reading them to a kid. They seemed boring (sacrilege, again, I know). They may have impressed a committee full of adults but they just weren’t kid friendly. Sorry.

Now. Allow me to back-pedal a bit. Some books were hard to find because they’ve been so beloved that they’ve been redone – and I was on a quest to make sure I read the books (mostly) as they were written and illustrated originally. Many Moons by James Thurber (pictured on my original blog post for this series) is a good example of a book I had this problem with. The Caldecott edition from 1944 was illustrated by Louis Slobodkin. But Marc Simont re-illustrated the book at some point, and his was the easier edition to locate, by far. Incidentally I read both, and comparing the 2 was an interesting exercise.

So take everything I’ve said about the hard-to-find books with a grain of salt. I think my library just didn’t stock some old great books. Because far more often than not, I was really pleased I bothered to seek out these books that may not be on top-favorite-classic lists, but still have many classic qualities about them.

So this all brings me to my last thoughts for today. I’m going to skip examples in the event that I insult somebody by suggesting their favorite "classic" book isn't classic, but let me say that I almost always was happy that I had taken the time to find the old books that were hard to find or that I, personally, hadn’t heard of. If for no other reason, but for the art.

Wow. The art. Even in the books that were tedious to read or tiresomely outdated, the art was almost always worth studying. Which I suppose is the whole purpose of the Caldecott anyway, to award outstanding art in children’s literature.

Anyway, isn’t it possible that timelessness is not a trait required for all books that are outstanding? Some books that were deemed extraordinary books in their day perhaps were extraordinary books for their time, but their time has simply passed. And that’s okay.

THINGS I LEARNED FROM READING ALL THE CALDECOTTS, EVER: part III

This is a series elaborating on 5 of the most valuable things I learned (or gained insight into) by reading all the Caldecott winner and honor books, ever, as I originally outlined on a blog post 2 weeks ago. I’ll be putting up new posts each week on the subject through Mid-February.

Last week I elaborated on thing NUMBER 1 I learned from reading all the Caldecotts, ever: 

1. Children’s picture books have evolved dramatically in the last century and many of the changes and evolutions are fascinating and exciting to trace through time.

This week, I’ll focus on thing NUMBER 2, perhaps the most valuable and hardest to put to words: 
2. Timeless books do some things that other books don’t. Or, if it’s possible to be more abstract, certain qualities seemed to rise up again and again in the books that felt most timeless.
A disclaimer: I had a hard time putting these qualities to words, as I mentioned last week. I mean, I think the hardest (and perhaps silliest) thing about this seeming a bit difficult is just having the confidence to say I know something. I’m only little old me. What gives me the authority to extract such broad and fancy statements like, “This is what makes a book timeless!” So, please keep that in mind; I’m only little old me. But I have read a heck of a lot of picture books in my life, and particularly in the last decade of working at being an illustrator. While I have no advanced degree or certificate that declares, “She knows everything,” I'm writing what I've gathered to be true. Take what you think sounds useful or true to your own experience and ditch the rest.

Okay, now that I got the overly apologetic side of myself out of the way, allow me to be bold and make the fancy statement: These are the qualities that the most timeless books amongst the sticker-winners seemed to share:

a. The books draw out authentic emotional feelings of what it’s like to be a kid -- both with the art and the words. In other words, you feel like a kid again when you read them. Think of obvious classics (and Caldecott winners) like The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, or Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. There’s a reason why these books resonate with us so. They hit on raw emotions. Kid emotions. And by kid, I don’t mean immature, I mean authentic to a child’s experience in life.  What kid hasn’t relished in the joy of new snowfall? What kid hasn’t felt angst towards their parents, or a sort of prodigal-child feeling when they return home where they find their supper waiting for them – still hot?

b. The art and text meld together in an inspiring way; they feel perfect for each other.  Think of another obvious classic like Cathedral by David Macaulay. This is a book about how a Cathedral was built illustrated in an architectural drawing sort of way. With the cathedral in question drawn mostly to dwarf the teenie-tiny figures building her. The text matches the art perfectly. The two go together so well that they make the book sing.

c. Often the most timeless of the books draw out some sort of new way of looking at the world, or invite their readers to a bit of a different perspective: the reader sees the world (no matter how limited within the book) from a bit of a new (and specific, yet universal) point of view. I wonder if I’m trying to define that elusive thing called voice? Ya, let’s call that thing voice. Voice: when the world/art/character seems so unique and interesting that the world/art/character pulls us in, suspends our disbelief and feels real. I found this above anything else to be the case amongst books that stood out to me as timeless. This elusive thing called voice. I’m trying to pick examples that most people will have read (probably indicating they are the most timeless), and perhaps of the stronger examples amongst the older sticker-bearers would be Madeline by Ludwig Belmelmans.

d. Story arc. Don’t get me wrong I read some amazing concept and atmospheric books amongst the lot. It’s just my own subjective, humble opinion that, after reading all the oldest of the old medal winners, books with story arcs felt more timeless. I’ll even add a note that some of the older ABC books seemed amongst the most dated. Even if the story arc was a bit subtle, like in Owl Moon, By Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr, or The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats. Those characters were changed by their experiences in the world. And we are changed with them as readers.

Okay, while interesting, are any of the timeless traits I’ve discussed here really surprising? I don’t think so. They sound like a bit of a generic list of what makes a good picture book, right?

On the other hand, if you answered, “yes, the traits are surprising,” maybe you aren’t reading enough books and you're reading too many blogs.

Next week I'll talk about the other side of the timeless coin -- books that felt dated.
until then, Cheers!





THINGS I LEARNED FROM READING ALL THE CALDECOTTS, EVER: part II

This is a series elaborating on 5 of the most valuable things I learned (or gained insight into) by reading all the Caldecott winner and honor books, ever, as I originally outlined on a blog post last week. I’ll be putting up new posts each week on the subject through Mid-February. Warning! I've released my inner geek upon my blog. These posts are not for the faint-of-heart who can't stand the smell of old books or the sound of bookish types talking about them. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Thing NUMBER 1 I learned from reading all the Caldecotts, ever:

1. Children’s picture books have evolved dramatically in the last century and many of the changes and evolutions are fascinating and exciting to trace through time.

In all the buzz surrounding books-turning-digital, it’s often overlooked that advances in technology have not only made digital books possible, but advances in technology have also made a wider variety of arty printed books possible – as is evidenced in reading all the Caldecotts.

The better technology gets, the more visual books have gotten and the more varied art in books has gotten. Art that used to be impossible to reproduce can now be used (A good example would be a book like A River Of Words: The Story Of William Carlos Williams, written by Jen Bryant and illustrated by Melissa Sweet).

Technology has brought innovative mediums to the mix (my own medium, collage, to name one), as well as allowing for extraordinary innovations like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, which I'm guessing probably would have been far too expensive to reproduce in its entirety decades ago. 

How exciting is this? That increasingly interesting and varied art can be used in books for children? And isn’t it possible that that technology will continue to get better and make printed books even better? Doesn’t that leave a lot of exciting hope for the future of printed books? Why do we rarely talk about this when we have the speculate-on-the future-of-publishing discussions?

Anyway, so it was fun to trace the kinds of mediums that were used in all the books I read and to note how they evolved over the course of 70 years (the Caldecott was first awarded in 1938). Because I’m a collage artist, of course I took particular interest in books that had a collage look to them even if they weren’t illustrated in collage and especially if they came out before collage illustrations were reproduced readily.

The book, Henry Fisherman, by Marcia Brown, was an interesting example. I remember being struck by the solid blocks of shape and how she used negative space in the illustrations. While the book doesn’t look like it was actually illustrated in collage (see footnote on this below)*, it uses a similar aesthetic as collage does -- like solid, simplified shapes and a deliberate use of negative space. I loved paying attention to compositional and color aspects used effectively in older books like this one.

So it was fun to trace illustration mediums evolving, but it was also interesting to trace an evolution in the texts of picture books. I know, Caldecotts aren’t awarded based on text, but still, you can see dramatic changes in style and taste from books printed in the 1940s to books printed in the last decade. Picture books have (mostly) evolved from being storybooks with pictures to stories told in pictures. I must confess that I sometimes had a hard time plowing through a few of the very old books; they were so long seeming. I couldn't imagine reading some of them to my kid. A few times they were flat-out tedious to read (is that sacrilege to admit?). Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like longer books. It's just I like the words to matter.

But then at times I’d discover a book that was super, super long, but also so fun to read! Like Paddle-To-The-Sea, by Holling Clancy Holling, about a toy Indian in a boat making a journey through the Great Lakes, on through the St. Lawrence river, and out to the sea. The book has heart and kid-appeal, even if I wouldn't really call it a picture book. It seems like more of a visual novel for younger grades only in picture book shape. Perhaps that’s actually more of what it is meant to be – it has chapters after all, despite its shape (sidenote bonus! while writing this blog post, I learned that the author, Holling Clancy Holling, also wrote at least two other similar looking "picture books" that each won Newbery Honors -- I’ll look forward to reading them when I find them). 

So I hope that offers a smidgen of insight about what I gained in perspective regarding the evolution of children’s books, all by reading all the Caldecotts, ever. It’s been fun, if a bit challenging, to attempt to put this to words. I just hope you'll all forgive me for releasing the complete nerdy research side of me onto my blog. If it's been too much, well, wait until next week! When I discuss what I learned about TIMELESSNESS by reading all those old books.

Until then, Cheers!

*Footnote on Henry Fisherman: I did some digging just now to be certain of the medium this book was illustrated in –– according to this website, from a special collections library at the university of Albany containing Marcia Brown Papers, it looks like Marcia Brown used five-color gouache. Other resources, like a couple of lists I found of mediums used for Caldecott books, actually did credit this book as being illustrated in collage, although they put a question mark after the fact -- meaning they were uncertain. For my money, even though the illustrations have a collage look to them, they don’t look like actual collage to me. That’s my take and I’m sticking with the folks from the special collections library in Albany in saying, nope -- not collage.

THINGS I LEARNED FROM READING ALL THE CALDECOTTS, EVER: part I

Because…
…last week was the week where the American Library Association announced this year's winners of their shiny round stickers,
…and because it was about a year ago that I completed an old goal close to my heart – reading all the Caldecott honor and winner books of all time,
…and because I never really took the time to step back and reflect on that goal’s completion,
… and because just 2 weeks ago I was busy chowing my way through the ENORMOUS stack of picture books I had checked out from the library while I was home, mostly collected due to their places on mock-Caldecott lists…
Today I’m beginning a short series of blog posts related to my thoughts on…
THINGS I LEARNED FROM READING ALL THE CALDECOTTS, EVER.
(I digress to point out that I had read all the Caldecotts, ever, up until the new winners were announced last week. The two honor books both came in under my radar – even though I LOVE Bryan Collier’s work and am surprised I missed a new book illustrated by him. I can’t catch everything though, even when I’m not living in Malaysia. I’ll read them both as soon as I find them).

In the next several weeks, every Monday I’ll put up a post elaborating on each of the following 5 most valuable things I learned (or gained insight into) by reading all the Caldecott winner and honor books, ever.


Here's the nutshell version:
1. Children’s picture books have evolved dramatically in the last century and many of the changes and evolutions are fascinating and exciting to trace through time.
2. Timeless books do some things that other books don’t. Or, if it’s possible to be more abstract, certain qualities seemed to rise up again and again in the books that felt most timeless.
3. Not all the Caldecotts’ texts felt timeless to me: there were reasons that some of the books were difficult to locate and required inter-library loans or trips to special libraries at Universities (but then there were also other qualities in those books that made me glad I took the time to seek them out or that helped shed light on why they may have won the sticker).
4. Everyone knows that, while awards committees do their best to be fair, it’s impossible for subjectivity not to play some role in what gets a sticker and what doesn’t. While reading all the Caldecotts, ever, I often found myself returning to the idea of subjectivity and pondering it.
5. For learning about picture books, there is no substitution for putting in real time with real books and real artwork.
    I apologize to those arty friends and crafty types who read my blog who aren't necessarily interested in Children’s literature. Like any blog, I hope you read what interests you and ignore the rest.

    For those interested in Children’s literature, I’ll put up the first post of the above 5 next Monday, with a new post (hopefully!) following every Monday until I'm finished with the series.

    Cheers!

    Woods in the Books

    When I was in Singapore last week I stumbled upon a happy little bookstore called "Woods In The Books."
    It was a picture book store, carrying what they called "picture books for all ages," meaning they carried lots of visual novels, graphic novels and arty journals in addition to picture books.
     The store was so lovingly curated, from the books, to the music playing in the background, to the art on the walls and exhibit in the back. Just knowing such a place exists makes me so, so, so happy. You can bet I spent a lot of time treasure hunting there. I also read some new picture books I'd been anxious to read but hadn't found in Malaysia yet (too bad my son slept through the whole experience, I think he would have liked browsing there too). I left with a very happy bag full of books and a skip in my step.
    When I first moved to Malaysia I was rather cynical about the picture book market here. But I've started to realize that even though there isn't as much of a market for picture books as where I'm from, there actually is huge potential for growth here. And after being here a while, my very unscientific intuition tells me the probability for that growth actually happening seems pretty real. Just seeing what exists in a more developed market that's relatively local, like Singapore, is refreshing evidence. So there's a little dose of hope for you all today. It's not only Malaysia, either. Much of SE Asia is developing fast. Perhaps the market for picture books will develop and grow along with it.

    Colorful Snippets From Singapore

    I spent most of last Saturday at the Asian Festival of Children's content in Singapore (the rest of the weekend I spent admiring colorful places -- easy to find in Singapore -- as evidenced from these photos).
    I left the festival and Singapore feeling a bit dazed at what a big wide world we live in, with a mind-boggling array of differences in children' s book markets.
    I also had many strange moments of seeing things from a different perspective regarding the children's book market back home in the United States.
    One speaker, when talking about why small publishers and authors should have promotional materials in English, said something to the effect of, "Everyone thinks the U.S. is the Holy Grail of Children's book markets. Break in there and you can make it anywhere. Then why don't all small publishers and authors have their promo materials in English?"

    It was strange to think about challenges some of my colleagues have here compared to those of my colleagues at home.

    I'm so used to various speakers moaning and groaning about the state of the market back home that I forget sometimes to remember how wide and big it actually is compared to other markets.
    I also had some culture shock moments, like the nervous twitch I had going when one speaker mentioned that art-based picture books have little market in many parts of Asia as many parents are still focused on Education based books.

    I tried just now to write about some recent experience with this mindset that would cause such a nervous twitch, but well, the politically correct public blogger who's afraid of closing my mind when it should be open won out and I edited. Let's just say this is something that I'm having a hard time relating to when I encounter it here, not only as an author and artist, but most especially as a mother.
    So I had a nervous twitch going through some of the conference. I had many reminders that we are a big world with lots of view points. It's a challenge to keep it all in perspective, be respectful to differences while remaining true to my own heart while working on my own craft (and mothering my son).
    But, lest I forget, challenges are the colorful rich stuff of life. And I can appreciate their beauty.

    When Playtime is Storytime

    If you are familiar with the picture books by Laura McGee Kvasnosky, you may know the story, Frank and Izzy Set Sail (If you are unfamiliar with Laura's books -- go check them out! They have rich characters and lots of heart). In this particular story, a bear and a rabbit sail to a place called Crescent Island where they have a camp out and sing to the stars. My nearly-3-year-old son, Oscar, currently loves this story.
    So the other day while playing with his toy boats, Oscar asked if I could make him a crescent island to play with. Hmm... Yes!

    But after Oscar's "guys" sailed to crescent Island they needed a campfire. Could I make a campfire? Please Mommy? Hmm... Yes!

    Then Oscar's guys needed to "sing to the stars." Could I make a ukulele? Please Mommy? Hmm... Yes!

    Oscar was engrossed. I guess I kind of was too (it's fun to make toy ukuleles and campfires out of paper -- I can't think of a better use for my collage skills). The whole episode made me smile. And it's happily been repeated a few times now.
    I love when my kid acts out scenes from his favorite books. I'd love to hear others' favorite stories of kids acting out picture books.

    (Meanwhile, I have to leave the computer and go back to reality! My movers are here. This is really happening, people. I'm soon going to be an ex-pat.)

    Yay for J.C. Phillipps!

    Have you read this book yet?
    It's called Wink: The Ninja Who Wanted to be Noticed by J.C. Phillipps.

    It’s about a spirited young Ninja named Wink who is anything but stealth – he is a ham in fact. I especially love the part where Wink dresses up in a ninja costume made from his grandma’s pink floral curtains. I WANT that ninja costume.

    Anyway, I'm a big fan and so this past fall when I was lucky enough to win a critique through a charity auction from Wink’s author/illustrator, I was thrilled.

    And not only did J.C. Phillipps offer me helpful advice for the story I sent her, she also agreed to answer some interview questions about her work for the SCBWI Western Washington’s upcoming printed Chinook newsletter!

    So because the newsletter will be coming out soon, I thought it might be fun to also give her a shout out here on my blog. If you haven’t read her book, go check it out. Also, take a peek at her website and her blog. I especially love the studio tour video she has put up on her website. And I love the recent posts on her blog regarding her process.

    Thanks for the critique and interview, Julie! But most especially thanks for the great book! I can’t wait until your next one comes out.